Director's Forum: A Blog from USPTO's Leadership
Monday Nov 21, 2016

Optimizing Patent Examination Time

Guest Blog by Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director Russ Slifer

The USPTO is committed to issuing the highest quality patents possible, as evidenced by our Enhanced Patent Quality Initiative (EPQI). An important part of this effort is evaluating our patent examination time goals with the help of the public.

Examination time goals, which vary by technology, represent the average amount of time a patent examiner is expected to spend examining an application. Because examination time goals impact both patent pendency and quality, we want to ensure that our examination time goals accurately reflect the amount of time needed by examiners to conduct quality examination. A critical part of our efforts is obtaining stakeholder input. 

The last assignment of expectancies for examination time was over 40 years ago. Since then, circumstances have required occasional adjustments and establishment of new goals for emerging technologies. There has not been, however, a comprehensive reevaluation of examination time since those expectancies were established. Since the examination time goals were originally assigned, significant changes to the examination process have occurred, including increased use of electronic tools, changes in law due to court decisions, a growing volume of prior art, and progress in technology which results in increasingly complex subject matter in applications.

One of the most significant changes has been the USPTO’s transition from the United States Patent Classification (USPC) system, used to categorize patents to facilitate prior art searches by examiners, to the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) system, an international, flexible and highly specific classification scheme. Because the current examination time goals were assigned based on the USPC system, implementation of the CPC system and the other significant changes to the examination process have caused us to reconsider and reassess the assignments of examination time goals.

As part of the EPQI, we are assessing the relationship between examination time and value-added examination activities, such as enhancing the clarity of the record with respect to claim interpretation, interview summaries, and reasons for allowance. All of these factors warrant a reevaluation of our examination time goals.

Internally at the USPTO, we’ve established teams to take a look at the impacts of both the transition to the Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) system and the EPQI programs on examination time. We are also developing, in collaboration with the examiners’ union, surveys on examination time that will be available for all Examiners and Supervisory Patent Examiners to complete in early 2017.

The public can provide us their input on examination time goals in several ways. On October 25, 2016, we published a Federal Register Notice to announce our effort, and we are accepting comments by email ExternalExaminationTimeStudy@USPTO.GOV or through our Ideascale site until January 30, 2017.

We are also holding roundtables in all of our offices across the country. We held our first roundtable on November 14 in Alexandria, VA. As a participant on the Alexandria panel, I had the opportunity to hear directly from many stakeholders about their interests and priorities with respect to examination time goals and quality, pendency, and cost for services.

Our next roundtable will take place on November 29 in Dallas, followed by roundtables in Detroit and Denver on December 15, and Silicon Valley on January 11. For more information on how to participate in these events, visit the Examination Time Analysis page of the USPTO website.

We look forward to hearing from you to help us guide the development and implementation of our new examination time goals.

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